Central American Farmers Face Climate Change Without Insurance

Alberto Flores (center) works hard to harvest the few bunches of plantains that he managed to salvage from his plantation, which was flooded and ruined after the rains that hit El Salvador in mid-October. He estimates his losses at 2,000 dollars. And in August he lost his maize crop, to drought. Credit: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

Alberto Flores (center) works hard to harvest the few bunches of plantains that he managed to salvage from his plantation, which was flooded and ruined after the rains that hit El Salvador in mid-October. He estimates his losses at 2,000 dollars. And in August he lost his maize crop, to drought. Credit: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

By Edgardo Ayala
SAN SALVADOR, Nov 2 2018 (IPS)

Disconsolate, Alberto Flores piles up on the edge of a road the few bunches of plantains that he managed to save from a crop spoiled by heavy rains that completely flooded his farm in central El Salvador.

“Everything was lost, I have been cutting what can be salvaged, standing in water up to my knees,” said Flores, a 54-year-old peasant farmer from San Marcos Jiboa, a village in the municipality of San Luis Talpa, in the south-central department of La Paz.

Flores told IPS that as a result of the rains, which hit El Salvador and the rest of Central America in mid-October, he lost some 2,000 dollars, after nearly a hectare of his plantain (cooking bananas) crop was flooded.”We must consider the protection of agriculture and how that improves food security, and to this end we must work on prevention measures that make productive systems more resilient and that generate sustainable development.” — Mariano Peñate

San Marcos Jiboa is a rural community of 250 families, 90 percent of whom are dedicated to agriculture. Most of the local farming families were affected by the torrential rains, IPS found during a tour of the area.

The damage was mainly to chili peppers, maize, beans, bananas, pipián – similar to zucchini – and loroco (Fernaldia pandurata), a creeper whose flower is edible and widely used in the local diet.

Other parts of the country and the Central American region were also hit hard.

Central America has been described in reports by international organisations as one of the planet’s most vulnerable regions to the onslaught of climate change.

And yet, tools that help farmers mitigate weather shocks, such as agricultural insurance, are not widely available in Central America, although important initiatives have been launched.

“I’ve heard about agricultural insurance, but no one comes to explain what it’s about,” said Flores, who perspires heavily as he piles up clusters of green plantains.

Compared to Mexico or countries in South America, Central America has made little progress in this area, according to the report Agricultural Insurance in the Americas, published in 2015 by the Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture (IICA).

The report states that the efforts made in the region have not generated the expected results, although it cites a growth in agricultural insurance premiums in Guatemala, where they totalled 2.25 million dollars, followed by Panama (1.8 million) and Costa Rica (just over 500,000 dollars), according to data from 2013.

Experts pointed out that the high cost of agricultural insurance premiums, which is about 13 percent of an agricultural loan or investment, is one of the reasons, as well as a lack of information on and culture of using insurance.

Rows of banana plants on a farm flooded by heavy rains in the village of San Marcos Jiboa, in the central Salvadoran municipality of San Luis Talpa. The rains that hit Central America in mid-October not only impacted crops but also left 38 dead and more than 200,000 people affected in the region. Credit: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

Rows of banana plants on a farm flooded by heavy rains in the village of San Marcos Jiboa, in the central Salvadoran municipality of San Luis Talpa. The rains that hit Central America in mid-October not only impacted crops but also left 38 dead and more than 200,000 people affected in the region. Credit: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

“Basically, it’s expensive,” Saúl Ortiz, Guate Invierte’s Risk Analysis and Management Coordinator, told IPS by telephone from Guatemala. The financial institution manages a trust fund of more than 70 million dollars in agricultural support in various areas, including insurance.

It is precisely because of these costs that Guate Invierte emerged in 2005, added Ortiz, to support the country’s small and medium producers and give them the chance to take out a policy. The initial plan was to extend it throughout the region.

In addition to being a state guarantor of agricultural credits acquired by farmers from other financial institutions, Guate Invierte offered insurance not linked to loans, with a subsidy of up to 70 percent of the cost of the premium.

Climate impact

“Climate change definitely has consequences for production and for people’s livelihoods, especially those who depend on agriculture,” FAO consultant in El Salvador Mariano Peñate told IPS.

The soil is deteriorating and the livelihoods, especially of the poor, are being hit hard because of the impact on the yields of their small-scale crops, and indirectly, due to the reduction of employment, he said.

That affects food security, he added, not only of the population affected by these climatic phenomena, but also of the people who depend on the crops grown in the affected areas.

“We must consider the protection of agriculture and how that improves food security, and to this end we must work on prevention measures that make productive systems more resilient and that generate sustainable development,” he said.

But that scheme failed because the government stopped injecting funds, and in 2015 Guate Invierte ceased to offer subsidised insurance not linked to loans, although it maintains coverage for customers who do have loans.

In El Salvador, while there is not a consolidated market, one kind of policy aimed at small farmers has begun to operate.

In July, Seguros Futuro, together with the state-run Agricultural Development Bank, launched the Produce Seguro programme, with coverage for earthquakes, droughts and excessive rainfall.

It is a microinsurance scheme aimed at the bank’s portfolio of 50,000 clients, whether they are farmers or involved in other productive sectors.

Unlike traditional insurance policies, which in the event of a catastrophe only pay for physically verified crop losses, Produce Seguro offers “parametric” insurance.

This kind of insurance pays a set amount for a specific event, based on the magnitude of the disaster, such as an earthquake or flooding, as measured y satellite and other advanced technology which indicates, for example, the level of rainfall in a given area.

The higher the level of rainfall in the policyholder’s area, the higher the indemnity.

In the case of rainfall, the initial level is 136 mm of water accumulated over three days. The information comes from the U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and the Salvadoran Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources.

“We don’t have to do any verification in the area, everything is based on the charts,” Daysi Rosales, general manager of Seguros Futuro, told IPS.

The pilot programme is supported by Swiss Re, the Swiss reinsurance company. The cost of premiums is five percent of the credit contracted with the BFA, which is affordable to farmers.

As a result of the last downpours, “the parameters have already been met and some level of compensation will be made, although we haven’t paid yet because the event just occurred and we are processing the payments,” said Rosales.

Rosales and Ortiz concur that state participation has been key to the expansion of agricultural insurance in South American countries or Mexico, something that has not happened in Central America.

“In Mexico, 90 percent is paid by the State; it is the State that buys the insurance, not the people,” said Rosales.

Meanwhile, on one of the flooded plots of land in San Marcos Jiboa, Víctor Alcántara, another farmer who was affected by the rains, said the impacts of natural disasters are felt virtually every year in this country, where climate change has become more severe this century.

“This time the blow was twofold: first we lost our maize in August, to drought, and now I’ve lost almost my whole loroco crop because of the rain,” he added.

Alcántara said he had invested 300 dollars in planting loroco, and has lost 60 percent of the crop due to the heavy rains.

Added to this is the loss of half a hectare of maize, worth around 400 dollars, due to the drought that affected the area in August, in the middle of the May to November rainy season, which is when the two annual harvests take place.

In August, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation and the World Food Programme warned in a joint statement that the drought would impact the price of food, since maize and beans, basic to the Central American diet, have been the most affected crops.

Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras reported losses of 281,000 hectares of these crops, on which the food security and nutrition of 2.1 million people depend, the report said.

Now that his maize harvest is ruined, Alcantara said he will have to figure out how to put tortillas on his family’s table.

 

Cholera Threatens a Comeback Worldwide

More than 400,000 cases of cholera are suspected in Yemen, and nearly 1,900 people have died from associated cases in the last three months alone.

Tents set up at Alsabeen hospital in Sana’a Yemen for screening suspected cholera cases.

By Anna Kucirkova
TEXAS, USA, Nov 2 2018 (IPS)

Cholera outbreaks across history regularly killed a hundred thousand or more. It isn’t well known today because it was essentially eliminated in the Western world.

It last erupted in the U.S. in the 1800s, eradicated by water and sewage treatment systems that prevented it from spreading via contaminated water. However, cholera is making a comeback around the globe, and it could again become a major killer.

Cholera is caused by eating or drinking something contaminated with the Vibrio cholera bacteria. Because it is waterborne, Western cases tend to occur when someone eats contaminated sea food.

In the developing world, people drinking water from rivers where others bathe and defecate contribute to its spread. That is why the World Health Organization (WHO) records around 150,000 cholera cases per year.

Cholera remains common in places with poor sanitation systems or where they do not yet exist. That is why cholera is considered epidemic in places like Africa, Latin America and South Asia.

Tropical climates that don’t get cold enough to kill the bacteria, wet soil that breeds it, and unsanitary groundwater that mixes with drinking water can cause one patient’s effluent to spread to an entire community.

The literal environment prevents the bacteria from being truly eradicated, resulting in it being found in overcrowded slums. Storms and flooding can interfere with local water supplies, bringing in contaminated water that people then drink.

It periodically erupts in active war zones and overcrowded refugee camps that cannot maintain a clean water supply. The lack of proper hygiene in these places certainly contributes to its spread. Yemen and Syria, both in the midst of civil wars, are the worst examples of this.

The cholera outbreak in Haiti has shown that cholera can come roaring back after other natural disasters that disrupt clean water delivery. Globalism contributes to cholera’s spread, as well.

For example, the Haiti outbreak was likely precipitated by U.N. peacekeepers that picked up cholera in Nepal, arrived in Haiti and then infected the local water supply through poor hygiene. The outbreak killed over ten thousand and infected hundreds of thousands more.

Now a country already struggling to deal with critically damaged infrastructure has to manage cholera, too. This is a tragic blow, since Haiti worked for years to eradicate the disease.

The infection and death rates were made worse by the under-developed medical system that the disaster rendered inoperable. In nations with underdeveloped medical systems, they can’t keep up with the load of the epidemic, spreading faster and killing many more than it would in a better equipped region.

Bangladesh struggles with endemic cholera. One of their solutions was vaccination against the disease. Vietnam, too, has set up a vaccination program to prevent humans from becoming a transmission vector. Both countries have set up programs to curtail their devastating effects, as well.

Globalization can take cholera to countries that have lived without it so long that doctors don’t know what they’re dealing with. This can lead to the disease spreading beyond what can easily be contained.

Within a few hours of symptoms appearing, patients can lose so much fluid that they’re rendered bedridden. This dramatically increases the risk of transmission to others. These few hours are also the ideal time to give someone a mix of fluids and antibiotics to prevent them from becoming dangerously dehydrated. If a patient is misdiagnosed, they could die of dehydration within two or three days.

In tropical countries lacking fully developed water and sanitation infrastructure, the soil and untreated groundwater hosts cholera bacteria that can contaminate public water supplies.

The outbreak is made worse by patients spreading it through bodily fluids to those who may have safe drinking water. And because patients can readily travel, the disease can spread rapidly through new vectors.

The ebola outbreak in Dallas, Texas was caused by a man, who knew he was exposed, booking a flight to Texas to visit family he hadn’t seen in more than a decade. He arrived knowing he might carry the disease and with the hope he’d be treated in the more advanced American hospitals.

Cholera periodically spreads to new areas for the very same reason; people who are sick board buses and planes to get help elsewhere. The less dramatic example is someone carrying cholera traveling by car to an urban hospital, spreading the disease as they travel.

This is the downside of globalization and has long been the basis of strong immigration controls – to make certain that immigrants didn’t bring diseases with them. Tuberculosis was routinely screened for in the 1800s and 1900s, but buses, trains and aircraft make it possible for cholera to go global despite its rapidity.

Overcrowded cities have always provided a place for cholera to claim many victims. One major difference today is scale. A cholera epidemic in London two centuries ago would claim tens of thousands in a city of perhaps a million.

Third world cities that are home to five to fifteen million, many of whom live in slums, could see a million or more deaths in a bad cholera epidemic. And the constant flow of people from the countryside to the city in the developing world creates a constant risk of an epidemic.

Thanks to our understanding of disease transmission, sanitation and treatment, cholera (https://connectforwater.org/cholera-is-becoming-a-serious-problem-heres-why/) outbreaks are rarely as catastrophic as the past. But we need to recognize that modern medicine is still in a war with this ancient foe that will continue to threaten humanity for the foreseeable future.